Pain takes so much from our lives, and reading this from a place where this feels unachievable might feel uncomfortable – but Lee and Niki were there once. One person’s Everest is another’s front gate – each effort is as brave and should be celebrated as such. It’s the effort and courage used to do the “Thing” that is important.
It is the reality that, for Niki and Lee, doing this Hard Thing was far less onerous or brave than their previous treatment hopes and failures, the days spent grinding on through the pain, the isolation and fear, and the losses that come from pain. This was a chosen Hard Thing and they deliberately acknowledge that – but also that nudging those safe boundaries and proving that Hard Things can give good feelings; that sense of achievement, of success, of personal pride, ability, and worth. These build buoyancy and trust in abilities and skills, something which is often eroded by pain.
When the non-chosen Hard Things come, the reflections of what was done, how it was done, and how what was learned and experienced can be called upon to better cope. The memories are a perfect antidote to despair or insecurity.
The group included five people who all had lived experience of pain – they’d met previously on a Flippin Pain Outreach Tour in May. Their lives and experiences were as varied as their bikes which made for a rich and trustworthy team. Boundaries were set and communication was good. The team aspect of this ride was fundamental in so many ways and showed how this kind of peer support can enhance lives.
The most important part of the Hard Thing was the teamwork and the support they gave each other – and the trust they placed in each other to give and receive that support. There were regular check-ins and space given when needed. Laughter and understanding. These relationships had been built fast and in response to a defined aim but no weaker for that. The mutual experience of living with pain provided a foundation of humanity and understanding that made this easier and more natural. It showed how natural peer support can feel and be grown.
They cycled with the understanding and trust they were doing this together – described as a “bungee cord”. They spread out as each rode to their own conditions, tools and choices, but would regularly snap back together, checking in and supporting. Lee and Niki also made a conscious choice to notice and celebrate the wins – from small to huge!
Preparation was a large part of the success of the ride – ensuring they were physically fit before, as were their bikes. That they had spare kit, first aid kits, emergency numbers, enough clothing, the right food to fuel the rides and enough water to keep hydration up. The route plan was in all the phones and Niki had a physical map as well (and was delighted to use it in Consett). They had emergency mechanical assistance, but other than that were self-sufficient, which was a change from the previous tours. That added feeling of vulnerability was mitigated by the team spirit.
Problem solving was both an individual and team effort – but the team did their best to face this with a can-do attitude and looked at what tools and skills they had.
Pacing was important but everyone did it in a way that suited them. Taking as an example the big Hartside climb – 7 plus kilometres of unrelenting climb up to the 580m peak:
Lee chose not to analyse the climb, and dropped into a rhythm focused on the next pedal stroke, over and over, steady and calm. He then waited and rested for the team prior to the last 2.5 km stretch which they all did together.
In contrast Niki chose to analyse the climb route beforehand, and realised that the last 2.5km would be on a main road where walking would be unsafe. With this in mind, along with her less than helpful bike gears, she chose to alternate cycling and walking up the first quieter stretch, ensuring she saved the fuel to cycle the last part. That last part for both was done with flow and focus, concentrating on the tyre in front of them, allowing the rhythm and present to tow them to the top.
Overall, during training and the Doing – having a goal, something to aim for and at, made motivation come easier – it was finite and had a payoff in success, in a sense of achievement and value. Normal everyday might often feel it lacks this, but these experiences can be used to find ways of imitating the ebbs and flows in more mundane ways, whether that is daily goals, appreciating the small wins in each day, gratitude for the view and nature, and to maintain and value social connections for the necessity they are.
As noted in the previous blog, cycling is as much a headgame as a physical one – and again the way they talked to themselves, to each other, the stories told, and the frame they watched the world through impacted how they rode – the “10 miles to go” sign could be a relief or a cosh – as could the rain – were they feeling alive in the wet or was it making things miserable? This was easier because they bounced these thoughts between them.
And lastly, encouragement – the quiet trust they would not be alone, the scream of success at the top of the 16% hill, the smile of shared achievement, leaning into a joint rhythm, overt and needed shouts of “you can do it!”. And they Did.